ASAE Urges Veto of Tennessee Bill Allowing Denial of Counseling Services

ASAE joined counseling groups in opposing a bill passed Monday by Tennessee lawmakers that would allow counselors to deny services to clients on the basis of personal “principle.”

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam should veto a bill that would allow mental health professionals in the state to turn away clients based on the counselors’ own “sincerely held principles,” ASAE said in a letter sent to the governor on Wednesday.

The Tennessee Senate passed the bill on Monday, and the governor is reportedly considering whether to sign the measure into law. The bill is part of a wave of legislation across the country that ASAE believes to be discriminatory against the LGBT community in particular, although the counseling bill is vaguely worded to allow therapists to refuse to provide services for any reason, presumably including someone’s race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

ASAE said in its letter to Haslam that the bill “threatens to give rise to state-sanctioned discrimination in Tennessee.”

The American Counseling Association—along with the Tennessee Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, the Tennessee Equality Project, and other groups—formed a coalition to oppose the bill when it was pending in the state House of Representatives earlier this month.

The bill “penalizes people for seeking healthcare … and undermines people’s right to healthcare,” TEP Executive Director Christopher Sanders said. “It puts government between therapist and patient and allows a therapist to discriminate based on a personal belief.”

ASAE also opposes a pending anti-LGBT bathroom bill in Tennessee that it says would marginalize transgender individuals and would put public schools and colleges in Tennessee at risk of violating the federal Education Amendments of 1972, also known as Title IX.

“Proponents of these bills may think they are narrowly focused on public school facilities or counseling, but the reality is that they broadcast an unflattering message about the state in general and its treatment of all individuals who reside in or visit the state,” ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE, said in the letter. “For these reasons, we urge you not to sign these bills and instead work with state lawmakers to affirm the fundamental rights and protections all Tennesseans and visitors to the state deserve.”

ASAE also said both of these bills could damage the state’s image as a welcoming destination for businesses, meetings and conventions, and tourism.

State legislators delayed action on the bathroom bill this week after State Attorney General Herbert Slatery warned that federal education funding could be at risk if the bill becomes law. Once the counseling bill reaches Haslam’s desk, he will have 10 days, excluding Sundays, to take action.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who has yet to sign the bill in question. (Mike Theiler/Reuters)

Chris Vest, CAE

By Chris Vest, CAE

Chris Vest, CAE is vice president, corporate communications and public relations at ASAE. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!